Thursday 2 November 2023

Review of 'Scarlet' by Doja Cat

Doja’s claws are out. Gone are the horny alien pop bops. She’s now making angry demonic rap. And it’s both fun and frustrating to listen to.

Despite its playful hooks and extraterrestrial visuals, Doja Cat’s last album Planet Her wasn’t strange or silly enough for me. Its predictable midtempo trap-flavoured sex songs felt worlds away from Doja’s kooky origins as a YouTube rapper rattling off bovine puns over a jazzy beat while dressed in cowprint.

Anyway, it turns out Doja wasn’t a fan of Planet Her either. In one of several social media tirades this year that ought to have been career suicide, the singer/rapper declared that her recent songs were ‘cash grabs’ before telling her fans to continue weeping for ‘mediocre pop’. It was clear that Doja Cat was done selling out and was ready to reinvent herself – even if it meant burning bridges with her pop fanbase.

And so Doja has decided to shave her head and reject her signature pink fluffy aesthetic for satanic red imagery instead.  Meanwhile, in response to critics who have told her she can’t rap, she’s decided to focus more on rapping and less on singing, while jumping on a mix of old skool and alternative hip hop beats. As for her lyrics, she’s largely scrapped the sex anthems and is now lashing out at everyone – including her haters and her stans.  

From the Diane-Warwick-sampling trap of ‘Paint The Town Red’ to the woozy soul of ‘Love Life’, the production is so much more fun and varied than it was on Planet Her. Doja Cat meanwhile proves that she can indeed rap – pouring as much skilful playfulness into her rap cadence as she does her singing. ‘Demons’ really shows off her ability to warp her voice, contrasting a screamed hook that’s aggressive enough to rival Rico Nasty with sweet cartoonish verses that sound like a mixture of Baby Keem and the little green men from Toy Story, before later adopting a unique stilted text-to-speech-like delivery as she raps ‘I’m the fastest growing bitch on all your apps now’.

Doja’s ability to toy with different inflections compensates for the lack of guests and also results in some uniquely catchy hooks. This is something that the singer/rapper is aware of as she makes clear on ‘Balut’ when she raps: ‘is it coke? Is it crack? Is is meth? Is it?/what the fuck do she put in them hits’. Unfortunately, there are times when Doja oversteps the line between catchy and annoying. G-funk song ‘97’ has a Snoop-flavoured hook that would be fun if she didn’t repeat the same line ‘looks like we don’t give a shit’ 10 times. Meanwhile, ‘Wet Vagina’ feels like some crude attempt to create her own ‘WAP’ with a chorus that’s both repetitive and soaked in autotune to the point of being unlistenable.  

I’m undecided as to whether I love or hate the lyrics on this album. I like that it’s a much more personal album. Doja also does throw out some memorably mean bars, which she delivers with conviction, and the satanic theme running through the album is edgy in a fun way (and has already resulted in her being the latest in a long lineage of musicians to be accused of devil worship). At the same time, there are some puns here that are just trash: ‘move like a goat cos bitches lion’. Her insistence that she doesn’t give a shit also contradicts the fact that she spends the whole album reacting to what people have said about her. Granted, she does deal with a lot of hateful comments. But that’s what happens when you sell out and then try to disown your new fanbase.